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. . . a weekly service for the media on news items related to Marijuana Prohibition.

April 17, 1997

Doctors Free To Recommend Medical Use Of Marijuana,
Federal Judge Rules

        April 11, 1997, San Francisco, CA:  U.S. District Judge Fern Smith issued a temporary restraining order on Friday blocking federal officials from punishing California physicians who recommend medical marijuana to their patients.  The decision came on the first day of hearings on a complaint filed by a group of prominent doctors and medical marijuana patients requesting an injunction to block federal sanctions threatened against physicians who recommend the use of marijuana as a medicine.
        Judge Smith also ordered the government and the plaintiffs to begin negotiations to settle their suit.
        "[The] plaintiffs have raised serious questions as to the constitutionality of the defendants' 'policy' regarding Proposition 215," Smith wrote in a three-page decision.  "[The] plaintiffs have presented evidence ... that ... physicians have been censoring their discussions with patients about medical marijuana out of fear that the government will either prosecute them or take away their prescription licenses for conducting such discussions."
        Lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Graham Boyd, praised the ruling.  "The judge clearly did the right thing in stopping the government from threatening doctors for simply practicing medicine," he told reporters.
        In announcing the order, Smith said the government's conflicting public statement's about whether it would take action against physicians who recommend the medical use of marijuana appeared to interfere with free speech and the practice of medicine.
        Noting that the Justice Department was unable to clearly articulate the circumstances under which criminal or administrative sanctions may occur, Smith ordered the government to refrain from taking any punitive actions against physicians until the lawsuit is resolved.
        "Judge Smith agrees with physicians who have challenged the government policy," said Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights.  "The government says doctors can discuss medical marijuana with patients -- but not recommend it -- as permitted by California law.  Judge Smith said that the distinction between 'discuss' and 'recommend' is too vague to guide physicians.  How can a doctor 'discuss' medical marijuana if there is only one kind of advice permitted: to just say no?"
        "Doctors have a right and an ethical obligation to give patients full discussion and accurate information about the risks and benefits of marijuana," affirmed Smith.
        For more information, please contact either Attorney Graham Boyd of San Francisco @ (415) 421-7151 or Elaine Elinson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California @ (415) 621-2493.  For additional information regarding medical marijuana and the law, please contact Allen St. Pierre of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.

High Court Strikes Down Law Mandating Drug Testing Of Political Candidates

        April 16, 1997, Washington, D.C.:  A Georgia law mandating political candidates to undergo a drug test before running for public office failed to demonstrate a "special need" substantial enough to override Constitutional protections granted by the Fourth Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.  The Courts' 8-1 decision marked a departure from three previous rulings permitting suspicionless and warrantless drug testing among railway employees, U.S. Custom Service employees, and high school athletes.
        "This is a small victory for liberty," said Attorney Walker Chandler, one of three Libertarian candidates who successfully challenged the law.  "We're moving as a society toward drug testing of everybody, everyday.  At least the court finally said there are limits."
        Writing for the Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the Georgia drug testing statute differed from earlier policies affirmed by the High Court.  "Our precedents establish that the ... special need for drug testing must be substantial -- important enough to override the individual's acknowledged privacy interest, sufficiently vital to suppress the Fourth Amendment's normal requirement of individualized suspicion.  Georgia has failed to show ... a special need of that kind."
        Noting that Georgia officials acknowledged the law was not enacted "in response to any fear or suspicion of drug use by state officials," the Court concluded that the statute existed solely to "display [the state's] commitment to the struggle against drug abuse."  This "commitment," though commended by the Court, was determined to be "symbolic" and, thus, failed to meet the "special needs" requirement established by prior case law.
        "However well-meant, the candidate drug test Georgia has devised diminishes personal privacy for a symbol's sake," concluded Ginsburg.  "The Fourth Amendment shields society against that state action."
        The Court also determined the Georgia policy to be both ineffective at identifying candidates who violate anti-drug laws and deterring illicit drug users from seeking election to state office.  Ginsburg further argued that political officials do not generally perform high-risk jobs where "risk to public safety is substantial."
        "The Supreme Court has held that there are constitutional limits to the state's authority to require drug testing, absent individualized suspicion, and that the desire to 'set a good example' is insufficient to justify an exemption to the Fourth Amendment," said NORML's Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq.
        The Court reiterated its position that blanket suspicionless searches can be required where the risk to public safety is significant, such as at airports and entrances to official buildings.
        Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissented.
        For more information, please contact Walter Chandler, Esq. @ (707) 567-3882 or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.  Copies of NORML's position paper: A Look At The Historical Legal Basis For Urine Testing are available upon request.

State Legislature Puts The Breaks On Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Provision

        April 15, 1997, Phoenix, AZ:  Legislation overturning a voter-approved law allowing physicians to prescribe marijuana (Proposition 200) was okayed by state lawmakers on Tuesday.  Gov. Fife Symington will sign the bill into law shortly.  Arizona's current medical marijuana law -- which voters approved by a nearly two to one margin in November -- permits doctors to prescribe marijuana to seriously ill patients if two licensed physicians agree on the use and offer supporting research.
        Arizona's new measure will delay indefinitely a doctor's ability to prescribe marijuana by mandating that the drug first be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.  Proponents note that this process could take years.
        "This is the ultimate act of political arrogance by the legislature," said Sam Vagenas, campaign coordinator for Proposition 200.  "It is a callous disregard of the will of the voters."
        Vagenas told reporters that medical marijuana proponents plan to launch a three-pronged attack on lawmakers who supported amending the current law, including filing a lawsuit challenging the authority of the legislature to significantly change voter-approved propositions.
        Proponents will also begin another initiative drive to prohibit lawmakers from amending propositions for two years after they are passed.  Their third offensive will involve targeting for defeat lawmakers who voted to change Proposition 200.
        For more information, please contact either Sam Vagenas of Arizonans for Drug Policy Reform @ (602) 285-0468 or Drew Foster of Arizona NORML @ (602) 730-0032.